learning love songs

est. 2008


February 2015


“If i could roll up my money and smoke it i would
Always travel light
Catch your eye
Don’t blink twice

If I could make lemonade from your lemons I would
Squeeze ’em hard and sour
Shut your eyes
Don’t make nice

Oh no, oh no
Will you love forever?
Oh no, oh no
Will you love me forever?

~Will You Love Me Forever? 
Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, Buzzard
Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s is one of those bands I kind of forget about for awhile, then obsess over for a spell. I won’t claim to know or understand this band’s entire catalog, but some moments are simply stunning, the words and scenes so violent, vibrant and cutthroat. I love where they tilt toward dissonant weirdness,  never fully abandoning a pop structure or standard format but throwing in off-kilter chords and borderline howls. Without being aggressive, they complement darkness and sadness and pain, but they remain a notch more cerebral than self-pity tends to allow. Some of the acoustic-based tracks are much more telling and stirring than the full-band tracks, but I find both styles have their strengths in story, in melody, and in heartsick lines and desperate declarations.

This song, “Broadripple is Burning” is always near the top of the rediscovery playlist. The way he sings, “Don’t fucking move,” so snide, like it just pours out of his throat, so perfect. Each time I hear this song – like so many others from so many artists that have felt timeless to me over the years – I feel a little hopeless, thinking How do you do this and then I wonder where it started, what pang of something dragged a beaten self far enough outside its sullen mind to tell something everlasting and meaningful. To be so bold.

“Children, Broadripple is burning
And the girls are getting sick
Off huffing glue up in the bathroom
While your boyfriends pick up chicks.
And darling I’m lost.
I heard you whispering
That night in fountain square.
The trashed filled streets made me wish we were heading home.

There was love inside the basement
Where that woman used to lie
In a sleeping bag we shared upon
The floor almost every night.
And darling I’m drunk,
And everything that I have loved has turned to stone.
So pack your bags and come back home.

And I’m wasted.
You can taste it.
Don’t look at me that way,

‘Cause I’ll be hanging from a rope.
I will haunt you like a ghost.

If my woman was a fire,
She’d burn out before I wake,
And be replaced by pints of whiskey,
Cigarettes, and outer space.

Then somebody moves
And everything you thought you had has gone to shit.
We’ve got a lot.
Don’t ever forget that.

And I wrote this on an airplane where the people looked like eggs.
And when a woman that you loved was gone,
She was bombing East Japan.
And don’t fucking move,
‘Cause everything you thought you had will go to shit.
We’ve got a lot.
Don’t you dare forget that.

And I’m wasted.
You can taste it.
Don’t look at me that way,

‘Cause I’ll be hanging from a rope.
I will haunt you like a ghost.

And I’m wasted.
You can taste it.
Don’t look at me that way,
‘Cause I’ll be hanging from a rope.
I will haunt you like a ghost.

~Broadripple is Burning 
Margot and the Nuclear So-and-So’s, Not Animal


There are new-old songs from The Hotelier released on streaming services today. It’s not The Hotelier I fell in love with this time last year. But that’s OK, because so often I discover a band backwards anyway, diving into its back catalog after the initial introduction. In this case, it’s slightly publicized release made it easier, and a bored, blank mind devoured the spoils.

At first listen, “It Never Goes Out” feels a lot more conventional pop-punk than “Home, Like No Place There Is,” in a freshman band kind of way. It’s brighter. It’s faster. It’s definitely not as dark. But the roots they grew from are quite obvious,  in all these moments of sprawling, spitting struggle and big, sad chords with gang chorus vocals that harmonize and dip and sway. But their focus and tightness was at least as strong in 2011 as it would prove to be later – the whole album is less than 30 minutes, not one of them a throwaway.

These songs are, for the most part, built around guitar hooks and the now-familiar heart-attack lines of desperation. “Lonely Hearts Club” plays like some kind of post-pop-punk musical mash-up, with so many vocalists and hooks galore. “Vacancy,” so far, is my favorite, followed by “An Ode to the Nite Ratz Club.” The couplet rhyming “way too serious” and “damaged wrists” is the best kind of rhyme, smart and original and visceral, the kind that appeared almost exclusively on “Home, Like No Place There Is,” the kind that are worth learning and singing and replaying and replaying and replaying to the point of back-of-the-hand memory, because how lucky it is to find something familiar that makes you feel.

“You’re so old now. Your bearings are shot. 
You’re a caved in roof. You’re falling apart. 
Your nights are spent lying on the couch hoping to forget…

You can’t fix this because it’s burning down.
You can’t fix me because I’m so burnt out.

When that sun crept over those stairs we were lighting fires on our hands. 
We held the fate of everything we loved in our hands. 

The strain in my back has left me here. 
I keep choking on my fears, on my loose ends. 
All the strength leaves the ghosts alone.

Oh, we are the same.

You can’t fix this because it’s burning down.
You can’t fix me because I’m so burnt out.

The Hotelier, It Never Goes Out 


“All I want is nothing more
to hear you knocking at my door.”
Kodaline is one of those bands I forget about all the time until Pandora or Spotify remind me – and then I really like them. Something about them feels a little prime-time drama soundtrack, relatively unhip but deeply satisfying in a Snow Patrol or Lifehouse kind of way. This is why I was surprised a couple weeks ago to spot their vinyl on the racks at Urban Outfitters. But I really have enjoyed getting to know their songs from 2013’s “In a Perfect World” in anticipation of their new album, the new single of which, “Honest” is built for pop radio six years ago but I hope gets some solid attention anyway because I love their songs better than those of most of their comparable contemporaries.

In the stunning and strained “All I Want,” one probing question makes for the most pained of choruses, a haunting, quiet song that arches into the clouds and back to the ground. This is their best song. This is the one that people would listen to over and over again. It is the emotional climax of this album that is pretty and poppy, full and focused on aspirational hooks and builds. 

What mostly appeals to me about this band is simple lyrical content matched with their overall sound, an honest one that brings together incredibly familiar styles. I enjoy the occasional unique string instrument or simple shaker auxiliary, and the more-than-occasional falsetto, as well as the way their sound toys with the more trendy, produced styles of bells and muted skins. That’s a hint of gospel in that chorus wrap-up, and some U2 in that intro, and some songwriter-friendly pronouncements in tired, weary hooks. There’s so many influences here, in that way UK-rock tends to betray, yet there is an earnest authenticity I find to be quite uplifting and inspiring. 
These are the kind of songs that suit the montage of putting it all back together. So good on my music-discovery tools for predicting with eerie accuracy an album for tonight that makes me think of putting one foot in front of the next, that dresses a heavy heart in brighter tones than it might be used to without shocking it too far into unfamiliar territory. Tonight something a little simple and straightforward and stirring is enough to be optimistic, even with it’s more gentle and vulnerable moments mixed in. That’s usually the best part anyway.
“So you brought out the best of me,
A part of me I’ve never seen.
You took my soul and wiped it clean.
Our love was made for movie screens.

But if you loved me
Why’d you leave me?
Take my body,
Take my body.
All I want is,
And all I need is
To find somebody.
I’ll find somebody.”

~All I Want
Kodaline, In a Perfect World


“So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten,
Sons are like birds flying upwards over the mountain.”

~Upward Over the Mountain
Iron & Wine, The Creek Drank the Cradle

Tonight all the sounds are waifish and delicate. Tonight all the world is patient and forgiving.

I was pleased to find the new collection of songs from Iron & Wine, beautiful archived tracks from “The Creek Drank the Cradle” era, which led me to listen to that still-remarkable 13-year old debut. Maybe it is the snow, maybe it is the stillness, maybe it is the stiff dirty strings that give me something to do with my hands, but the softness of acoustic songwriting is lately the warmest blanket I can find these nights.

On this record, songs of simple structure and folk storytelling do not demand much attention to figure out, but the payoff is great. Sam Beam has an iconic voice ripped from centuries ago, his verbiage is charmed and weary, and strings, strings, strings, nothing but strings, are focused in the expanse of the story. I remember hearing these songs back when, I remember being impressed, but it wasn’t until probably five or six years ago that I really got into the Iron & Wine catalog, and only in this moment have I taken the time since to go back to where it all began.

These songs of lovers and children and religion and seasons do not tread any new ground for folk music, I would say, other than capturing its essence in an era when such tropes were merely floating at the edges of the mainstream pond (instead of flooding it, as they sometimes do now). Most live in the same chord structure, but this is part of what makes them so good, how spin the old familiar wheel so well. “Lion’s Mane” is instantly the most recognizable and exemplary of Beam’s image. “Upward Over the Mountain” is perhaps the most classic and easily the most heart-stopping and beautiful and I do not think I have ever heard this song without crying or at least wanting to. Beam’s guitar and composition style has some shining moments, like the outro on “Upward” or the extended solo on “Faded From the Winter.” To listen to later songs, like those on the so-so-successful but rather interesting “Kiss Each Other Clean,” you can hear the threads beginning here. 

With the release of his archived tracks instead of newer recordings, the Iron & Wine fan base may wind up being more grateful for the return to this former sound than they are apt to care about when they were recorded. I’ve found them incredibly lovely, perhaps a little more seasoned and private, somehow, than the tracks we’ve become familiar with and maybe that is only because they were locked away so long. I think there is a lesson for artists here, about how sharing your work simply because it is done doesn’t mean that is the right moment for the world to hear it. So too is there a lesson in songs this patient with themselves, that whatever we mean to say may be said best with little adornment and kept close, kept private, like whispered little words on winter nights.

“Time and all you gave,
I was a jerk who preferred the sea
To tussling in the waves
Tugging your skirt singing “please, please, please.”

Now I see love
Dragged on the floor where you walked outside,

Now I seek love
Looking for you in this other girl’s eyes.

Time and all you took
Only my freedom to fuck the whole world,
Promising not to look
Promising light on the sidewalk girls.

Now I see love
There in your car where I said those things.
Now I see love,
Tugging your skirt singing “please, please, please.”

Time and all you gave
There on your cross that I never saw
Well beyond the waves
Dunking my head when I heard you call.

Now I see love,
There in the scab where you pinched my leg
Now I see love,
There on your side of my empty bed.

~Promising Light 
Iron & Wine, The Creek Drank the Cradle


“Shelter me oh genius words 
Just give me strength to pen these things 
And give me peace to well her wings.” 

Well, this is gorgeous:

Fifty-nine days until the Chroma 10-year anniversary tour rolls through the Steel City. It’s good to have things to look forward to.

I never had the opportunity to see Cartel live in their heyday, despite thoroughly loving this record, and so I am happy to see it revived. In their new live recordings, lead vocalist Will Pugh sounds crystal clear and resonant as ever, and the swell of strings in this gentle, powerful – OK, also somewhat sappy – ballad elevate them from pop punk to a songwriter’s plateau. I don’t hear a one-off album closer in this recording, I hear a seasoned group of musicians playing their best at a heartfelt tune. I find it hopeful. I find it truthful. I find it confessional in a near-desperate kind of way, one that reminds a sad, sorry little heart of all its feeling potential, and of the days when giving it all in the name of love sounded as much of an adventure as any creative endeavor.

Ten years ago, when I would’ve played this song from a first-generation iPod in my mom’s car on the way to ballet class, love was a dream that I could not attach to places or faces other than the ones that were right in front of me – was it love or convenience then, I cannot really say, but oh, how clear the difference is today, how the recognition of the weight of love balances the perspective in the most centering kind of way. When you know, you know, they say, and this I have come to understand in a way that only age and experience can provide. Time and experience change many things, including the will and capacity and resilience of the heart, and I am listening to these poetic words today with a stronger one, than I ever did ten years ago, and that is only because of the depths of love and desperation I have encountered. For this, no matter the risk, I can only be grateful and surrender.

“And I’ll hold on to the dream
Of this beggar’s plea and optimistic fantasy.”

~The Minstrel’s Prayer
Cartel, Chroma


So, it’s easy to hate on Valentine’s Day, or any celebration of any sort, really, in the name of being jaded or cynical or merely above the commercialization of it all –  but is there anything so wrong with telling someone you love them, on any day? No. What’s so wrong, then, about a day exclusively devoted to that?

I guess, in the perfect relationship, such a day would be every day. 
But that’s not how it goes. 
Most relationships aren’t perfect. Most are fractured and complicated. So many fall apart under the weight of personalities and realities and the heavy, constant weight of expectation. The best, I think, rise above and heal the harm, like skin over scars. I think that’s what this song is about. About trying through the hardest times to stay optimistic, to be hopeful, to believe. About counting down the days til the open wounds are closed.
Show me Dallas Green songs and I will show you how to wear your heart on your sleeve. His voice on this track is nothing short of stunning – an incredible, inspired performance – and his playing, solo acoustic spotlit like the rest of this brilliant little record, are captivating in a deep and feeling kind of way, one just right for lonely mornings and even better for the solitude of a cold, dark night. 

“So there goes my life
Passing by with every exit sign
It’s been so long
Sometimes I wonder how I will stay strong
No sleep tonight
I’ll keep on driving these dark highway lines
And as the moon fades
One more night gone, only twenty more days

But I will see you again
I will see you again a long time from now

And there goes my life
Passing by with every departing flight
And its been so hard
So much time so far apart
And she walks the night
How many hearts will die tonight

And will things have changed?
I guess I’ll find out in seventeen days.

But I will see you again
I will see you again a long time from now

My body aches,
and it hurts to sing,
and no one is moving
And I wish that I weren’t here tonight,
but this is my life.

And I will see you again
I will see you again a long time from now

And I will see you again
I will see you again a long time from now.”

~Hello, I’m in Delaware
City and Colour, Sometimes


“It’s OK to cry.”  
But is it only OK if you have permission? Is it more OK if you are alone? What about at a desk, at work, choking them back so notices and it’s like you never really cried at all, is that OK? Is it more OK if the reason is for someone else and maybe, for once, not yourself? Or are they always for you?
Tears are the strangest, most versatile of physical reactions. Sometimes they are happy, more often, they are not. Sometimes they’re hot and salty with fury, sometimes they are thin and wet, cold and numb. Some arrive unannounced and uninvited and interrupt the party. Others are like that old friend you haven’t seen in years, making you feel safe and comforted and at home. You could cry about anything, if you look around enough, or you could cry about nothing, if you were melodramatic enough, but you can also cry about everything and nothing all once, just because the world is bright and ever-changing and you are small and alone, which is nothing as far as the day to day of your reality is concerned, but everything, everything, everything, if you want to find balance in your place in this world, and as scary as it is, there is comfort in that.

“Don’t let them see you cry
When the dam breaks down
And the city’s covered in water
‘Cause I believe we fly
When the moon takes shape
And I dose off, on your shoulders

And the trust you see, it’s you
So breathe while you’re alive
Let the big band play
As you tap leather with your fingers
And I tried to write in style
But the words just come
And I write them as soon as I see them
And I trust that you write them too
And I trust that you love me too.”

~Don’t Let Them See You Cry 
Manchester Orchestra, Mean Everything to Nothing


In nearly seven years of running this humble home for my words and thoughts related to songs, albums, artists and creativity, something happened this weekend that never before occurred.

I lost a post.

I had about 600 words on the beautiful new Punch Brothers album, and I didn’t press publish, it didn’t save, and I lost it. Then I lost it, or wanted to anyway, because I worked hard on that and I like sharing my thoughts, especially when I actually review something that might give someone a new recommendation or context for listening. But in spirit of “The Phosphorescent Blues,” which is my favorite kind of bluegrass, part elevated folk and part chamber music, I will not dwell on what I no longer have, I will not lose a minute of this present. I’m so struck by this album’s maturity, and so soothed by its shadows and shimmers, that it might prove to be the perfect accompaniment for moving onward in spite of any stumbling blocks – which is, after all, what progress is all about, isn’t it?

For the sake of review, some bulletpoint thoughts:

  • Chris Thile, virtuoso;
  • T.Bone Burnett, wizard;
  • “Familiarity,” never heard a Track 1 like this before;
  • Mortality, a worthy theme.

“My oh my, what a wonderful day
We’re having, we’re having,
Why, oh why, are we looking for a way
Outside it, outside it?

How long, oh Lord, can you keep the whole world
Spinning under our thumbs?”

~My Oh My
Punch Brothers, The Phosporescent Blues

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